Many of the clients I see have not yet separated. They are having problems in their relationships and they consult with me to discuss their rights and obligations in the event of a separation. For parents, the issue of the children is front and centre.
Parents invariably ask me how and what to tell the children about the breakup. Over the years, I have gotten better at answering this question. Obviously, parents know their children best and will know how to frame to issue sensitively. What I know and what I tell my clients is that it is important for the children to get accurate and truthful, age-appropriate information. Not telling the children until someone moves out is not on – the children are entitled to know how and why their lives will change before any change is implemented. It is also important for the children to have a version of events that allows them to preserve a loving relationship with each of their parents.
There will, of course, be many conversations with the children about the breakup. The first is often the most daunting, and perhaps the most important, as it frames the event for years to come. I suggest that the parties come up with a relatively neutral version of events together and then share that version with the children in a kind of “family meeting” which everyone attends. It is important that both mom and dad tell the kids together and that they have the same script. Limit the information to what the children actually need to know and avoid laying blame at the feet of one or the other of you.
Donald Saposnek has written a beautiful article on this issue entitled “Developing A Mutual Story of the Divorce: What Should We Tell the Children.” I commend it to you: http://www.mediate.com/articles/falleditorial.cfm. Dr. Saposnek’s thoughts about how to craft a mutual story of the breakup, and why that consistent story is good for children, are worth a read. He provides valuable examples of how to frame the events surrounding the breakup in an accurate way while sharing a version of the story that avoids putting the children in the middle.